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There are some very important choices that we all will make in life, and choices lead to consequences. One of the most important choices we make is how we run what we might call the race of life.
The goal of the race is to win it. As the apostle Paul said, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize” (Philippians 3:13 NLT).
But just like athletes in a sporting event must play by the rules or be disqualified, we also must play by the rules in the race of life. Take, for example, track and field events in the Olympics. There are rules that have been established, and one of those rules is that you cannot use any kind of an enhancing drug, like steroids, to help you win. We can think of instances in which certain athletes have won a gold medal, but after being tested for drugs afterward, they were disqualified. The person who won the silver medal was awarded the gold.
Rules matter, and we have to play by the rules.
God has given us the rule book, if you will, for the race of life. It is not for us to make up the rules as we go, picking and choosing which rules we want to follow. Rather, it is a package deal. We play by the rules that God has laid down.
Saul, the first king of Israel, was a man who did not like to play by the rules. He had what it took to succeed, but he squandered his resources. His life is a study in contrasts. In some ways, he was big, but in other ways, he was very little. In some ways, he was strikingly handsome, but in other ways, he was decidedly ugly. Saul was both a hero and a renegade. He started his reign in victory and ended it in humiliating defeat. He lost his character, his power, his crown and, in the end, his very life.
His life stands as a warning that we cannot rebel against God and get away with it. It will catch up with us – maybe not today, maybe not even tomorrow, but sooner or later. Scripture says that we can be sure our sin will find us out (see Numbers 32:23).
Saul started well, but he finished badly. He wrote his own epitaph, in effect, when he said, “Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21 NKJV).
Charles Swindoll, in his book “Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives,” said, “The tragic story of Saul reminds me that the impact of any one life – whether positive or negative, large or small – cannot be measured with accuracy until it has run its full course.”
Saul’s story begins with the nation of Israel. Up to this point, Israel had been ruled by various judges, and prophets would give them God’s word. But they got tired of that. They didn’t want judges, and they didn’t want prophets anymore. What they wanted was a king. And why did they want a king? Because the other nations had a king. So they effectively said to Samuel, “Why can’t we have a king? Everyone else has a king but us.” Through the prophet Samuel, God warned them what would happen if a king reigned over them. But the people wanted a king anyway.
Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it (and you might not like it). That is what happened with Israel. God gave them what they asked for.
If David was the man after God’s own heart, then Saul was the man after man’s own heart. Saul was the people’s choice. At first we see many fine qualities in Saul, things our culture values highly and were valued in that culture as well. Saul was a strikingly handsome guy. He was the best-looking man in all of Israel. If People magazine had been around back then, he would have been named the Sexiest Man Alive. He was charismatic. He was tall. He had many natural gifts. And he seemed like the kind of guy Israel wanted to lead them.
But Saul squandered his resources and opportunities and played the fool. And because of this, he was disqualified. He became a victim of himself, full of impatience, pride, rebellion and jealousy, ultimately leading to attempted murder. Over a period of years, he was transformed from a great leader to a paranoid tyrant who committed suicide on the battlefield.
Impatience was the first step that led to Saul’s decline. An enemy of Israel, the Philistines, mounted an attack. They immobilized the Jews, and thus they went into hiding. God told Saul to wait for the prophet Samuel to present a burnt offering, calling on God for help. But Saul grew impatient. So he did it himself. When Samuel showed up and found out what Saul had done, he told him, “Now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (1 Samuel 13:14 NLT).
At first blush, this could seem a bit extreme on God’s part. But God looks on the heart, while we look on actions. God could see that Saul’s heart had already turned away. Saul’s sin may seem insignificant to us, but little things become big things.
Little sins that we somehow rationalize or justify may come back to wreak havoc in our lives later. Little things always turn into big things. So if God says don’t do something, he means don’t do it. And he says that for good reason. Spiritual decline is gradual. Saul’s failure was not immediate.
Perhaps right now you are at a fork in the road as you run the race of life. You have a choice whether to go the right way or the wrong way. Make the right choice. If Saul’s life teaches us nothing else, it teaches us this: Choices produce consequences. And actions produce reactions.